Israel-Japan VC fund invests in bringing joy to our stressful lives

Herzliya-based Joy Ventures begins 10- to 20-year effort to create an ecosystem for neuro-wellness products

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Avi Yaron, CEO of Joy Ventures, left, with chief operating officer Idan Katz at their offices in Herzliya in Sept. 2017 (Shoshanna Solomon/TimesofIsrael)
Avi Yaron, CEO of Joy Ventures, left, with chief operating officer Idan Katz at their offices in Herzliya in Sept. 2017 (Shoshanna Solomon/TimesofIsrael)

If you suffer from headaches, neck or back pain, or rapid heartbeat or have problems sleeping, chances are it’s a result of stress. And you’re in good company, because the majority of people in the Western world suffer from this emotional strain.

According to the American Psychological Association, adults in the US report high levels of stress that have increased over the past year; 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, according to the American Institute of Stress; and six out of 10 workers in major global economies experience increased workplace stress, according to The Regus Group.

So, we all try to cut down on stress: by running, doing yoga, meditating — trying to find a little bit of peace in our busy, busy days. The thing is, all these beneficial activities take time, which we don’t have to spare.

Now Joy Ventures, a $50 million joint Israeli-Japanese VC fund, hopes to be able to find us all ways to calm down, easily, with our much-loved smartphones or other devices to hand.

A quiet moment before a yoga session in the desert (illustrative photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

“The modern Western population suffers from a lot of stress, even if there is prosperity and a high quality of life,” said Avi Yaron, the CEO of Joy Ventures. “Unfortunately, this high quality of life does not necessarily translate into wellbeing, and to this niche caters Joy Ventures.”

Joy seeks to help individuals with neuro-wellness products by enhancing their resilience, he said.

“People don’t necessarily look after themselves, they don’t sleep enough and don’t eat the most healthy foods. You can’t really stop or change their way of life. We want to help, not with medicines, but with neuro-wellness,” said Yaron. “Joy Ventures wants to allow people to support that change in an easy and fun way, using the advanced knowledge of brain sciences to lower stress, improve moods and raise the feeling of well being.”

Joy Ventures is a privately funded investment company founded by Corundum Open Innovation, a VC fund that invest in Israeli tech companies. The fund is backed by Japanese corporations and has offices in Israel and Japan.

Joy was set up when some of the Japanese investors in Corundum said they were keen to invest in technologies that could lead to improved human wellness.

Gilad Peleg Lorberbaum, managing partner for Corundum Open Innovation which is behind Joy Ventures (Photo credit: Naor Swartz)

“Our investors were looking to focus both on the brain and on consumer products — so we decided we needed to create a new framework — something completely different that allows us to foster these kind of companies, but also build a whole new ecosystem in Israel, because the field is so new,” said Gilad Peleg- Lorberbaum, the managing partner for Corundum.

The idea is to invest in consumer products that can be scientifically validated and offer stress relief and improve people’s moods. The products could include wearables, apps, or any other technology-based, innovative consumer product that can help make people a little less stressed or just feel good. The initial $50 million raised by Corundum and backed by international investors aims to build a local ecosystem, increase awareness of the field, and cultivate technologies, companies and academic research.

“It is a long-term strategy,” said Idan Katz, the chief operating officer of Joy Ventures. “It will be a 10- to 20-year effort. We are just only now building the infrastructure.”

Most brain research and efforts today go into medical developments and pharmaceuticals, the founders said. Joy Ventures wants to steer existing brain research to neuro-wellness consumer products.

“There are strong brain research capabilities in Israel but most of them are steered to neuro degeneration and illnesses. We want to study the healthy population. What makes a person feel good?” said Yaron.

There are already some neuro-wellness products available globally on the market. Muse, for example, has developed a brain sensing headband that is used as a “personal meditation assistant” that helps guide users in calming their minds, the website said.

“That is a classic product of brain technology put to use in a consumer product,” said Peleg-Lorberbaum. “We want to develop a whole industry and ecosystem of these kind of products here in Israel, aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of users.”

Jewish mental health professionals say there has been an unprecedented rise in anxiety, stress and sadness since Donald Trump was elected president. (Lior Zaltzman/JTA)

Besides raising awareness of the issue by holding hackathons and mentorships to help entrepreneurs strategize about products, Joy Ventures also aims to raise awareness in academia and encourage researchers to “study the healthy brain,” Yaron said.

To this purpose Joy announced, earlier this year, that it will issue grants totaling $1 million annually to boost research in neuro-wellness. The winning projects for this year’s grants include a virtual reality lab that measures the stress levels of subjects as their environment changes and uses the results to set out guidelines for architectural design of dense urban environments so that stress can be reduced; and a project that uses artificial intelligence techniques to study what situations raise stress levels in each individual, and uses virtual reality and neurofeedback tools to reduce stress.

Joy has also made a first investment of $800,000 in a startup, Brain1 Innovations, that will create a headset, similar to regular earphones, with hardware that senses emotional states in the brain and which has the ability to learn what kind of sounds calms the user down and accordingly adjust the music it plays.

“There is a dire need for effective solutions to lower our stress levels,” said Yaron, an electronic engineer and graduate of the IDF’s elite 8200 unit. “Our story resonates with a lot of people because everyone feels the emotional toll of modern life.”

Yaron was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1993. “I was supposed to die at the age of 26,” he said. He has undergone four operations in six years, and his suffering pushed him to study neurology and find a way to improve wellbeing by leveraging the body-mind connection.

“I decided that instead of fixing something broken, our aim should be to preserve what is whole and healthy,” he said.

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